America’s spy agencies want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates — even check out your book reviews on Amazon.
In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day.
Visible crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. (It doesn’t touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.) Customers get customized, real-time feeds of what’s being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords.
“That’s kind of the basic step — get in and monitor,” says company senior vice president Blake Cahill.
Then Visible “scores” each post, labeling it as positive or negative, mixed or neutral. It examines how influential a conversation or an author is. (”Trying to determine who really matters,” as Cahill puts it.) Finally, Visible gives users a chance to tag posts, forward them to colleagues and allow them to response through a web interface.
In-Q-Tel says it wants Visible to keep track of foreign social media, and give spooks “early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally,” spokesperson Donald Tighe tells Danger Room.
Of course, such a tool can also be pointed inward, at domestic bloggers or tweeters. Visible already keeps tabs on web 2.0 sites for Dell, AT&T and Verizon. For Microsoft, the company is monitoring the buzz on its Windows 7 rollout. For Spam-maker Hormel, Visible is tracking animal-right activists’ online campaigns against the company.